Transgender Law Center recently helped JoAnna obtain recognition of her marriage by the Social Security Administration. JoAnna married many years ago before her gender transition. Last February, JoAnna approached her local Social Security Administration office with paperwork necessary to designate her spouse as her beneficiary for Medicare and retirement benefits. However, the clerk in the SSA office refused to process JoAnna’s paperwork until her spouse was removed, stating (incorrectly) that their marriage was not recognized by the federal government. Under the laws of every state, a marriage that is different-sex and valid at the time it is entered into remains valid even if one spouse transitions.
The only ways to terminate a marriage under California state law are death, divorce, or annulment. It is the policy of federal agencies to recognize any marriage that was valid and different-sex in the state where the marriage took place at the time it was entered into. That is, gender transition alone cannot invalidate a marriage. Transgender Law Center contacted attorneys at the Social Security Administration, who confirmed that the agency would recognize JoAnna’s marriage for the purposes of spousal benefits under Social Security and Medicare.
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